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UCLA BRUINS (3-2) at UTAH UTES (1-3)
UCLA begin its quest towards a second straight Pac-12 Championship game appearance, but Utah will attempt to use its home field advantage to pull off an upset on Thursday night.
These two high-octane offenses will clash in what looks to be an intriguing Pac-12 matchup. The 2013 season has been good to the Bruins so far as they have gone undefeated over their first three non-conference games and are looking forward to starting conference play and a chance at a second straight visit to the Pac-12 Championship out of the South division. Utah, on the other hand, did not enjoy success in 2012, finishing in 5th place in the South division with a 3-6 record during conference play. A group of young players has moved up to the top of the Utes' depth chart and looks to change the combined feel of the team. Overall, these two teams have played each other four times, splitting the series with two wins each. Neither team has been able to win on the road in this matchup, as Utah is 2-0 at home and has beat UCLA by an average of 31.5 PPG in those matchups. This Pac-12 showdown will be very important for both teams, as UCLA attempts to show that its 2012 season was no fluke, and the Utes look to put their first conference loss, a 51-48 overtime defeat to Oregon State, behind them. The Bruins are only 6-13 over their past 19 games on the road. Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, Utah has gone 7-12 in conference play and is 16-12 overall. This could be a real barnburner if both top-20 offenses are firing on all cylinders.
UCLA has dominated its opponents this year, winning each of its first three games by an average of 34.7 PPG. A 59-13 blowout in their last game against New Mexico State (0-5) does skew the numbers a bit, but a 20-point quality win at No. 23 Nebraska (3-1) and a 38-point victory against Nevada (3-2) were no easy tasks. Leading the Bruins in their three victories this year has been QB Brett Hundley. With 848 passing yards (66.3percent completion rate), 8 TD and 3 INT, Hundley has the Bruins ranked 12th in the nation in passing. Hundley also can keep the ball himself as he has run for 157 yards (4.9 YPC) and two touchdowns. WR Shaquelle Evans has been Hundleys main target so far in 2013 with 210 yards receiving (16.2 average) and three touchdowns. The Bruins will look to combine their high-octane passing attack with the nations 13th-ranked rushing attack, led by Jordan James, who has averaged nearly seven yards per carry (6.8) in 2013, and has totaled 424 yards and four touchdowns. UCLA will also feature 2012 All-Conference LB Anthony Barr (19 tackles, 1 sack) and the 29th-ranked defense (18.0 PPG allowed) to slow down Utah.
Solid recruiting by Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham has brought young talent to the teams starting lineup, and with that has developed a top 20-offense. One recruit that can be thanked for this rejuvenation is sophomore QB Travis Wilson. In 2013, he has racked up 1,118 passing yards (280 YPG), 251 rushing yards (7.8 YPC) and 14 total touchdowns (9 passing). Another young player who looks to bolster the Utah rushing attack for the next few years is James Poole, who has helped the Utes to an average of 219 rushing YPG (31st in FBS). Poole has added 424 total yards (304 rushing) and one touchdown for this Utah offense. A third key offensive contributor this year has been Dres Anderson who has caught 18 passes for 404 yards and three touchdowns. These three players will need to be at the top of their games to keep up with UCLA's prestigious offense. Attempting to help tame that Bruins offense will be DE Trevor Reilly, who has tallied 25 tackles and two sacks on the year. Overall, the Utes rank 29th in the nation in rushing defense, allowing only 118 YPG on the ground. Over their past 25 games at home, Utah has compiled a solid 18-7 record, and they will look to continue to use their home field as an advantage and outscore UCLA for their first conference win of 2013.